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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac Said Set to Intervene in Poll

PARIS -- Conservative President Jacques Chirac appeared set Monday to intervene in France's parliamentary election campaign as Prime Minister Alain Juppe acknowledged the race was tightening.

"I have always thought that the vote would be close," Juppe told France Inter radio three weeks before the first round of voting, adding that it would be natural for the president to declare his preference.

With the center-right government's lead shrinking in opinion polls, the Elysee presidential palace said Chirac was weighing whether to speak out for the first time since he called the early election two weeks ago.

The French daily newspaper Le Monde reported he had decided to do so in an opinion article to appear in regional newspapers on the second anniversary of his own election on Wednesday.

Penning an article would shield him from the questioning he would face if he agreed to a television interview.

Conservative politicians, citing the precedents of all his Fifth Republic predecessors, urged Chirac to enter the fray and help tip the race in the center-right's favor as left-wing leaders scented a possible upset victory.

"I think the left can win it," Communist Party leader Robert Hue said in an interview on Radio Monte Carlo.

"There are 20 days left in the campaign, and a lot can change. I have noticed a change in the dynamics in the past few days, and I am very pleased," Hue said.

With voting to be held in two rounds on May 25 and June 1, a series of polls released since Saturday have shown the left catching up on the ruling coalition.

"The left and right neck and neck," the BVA polling institute said in a statement after its latest survey found the combined center-right with 40 percent of the first-round vote to 39.5 percent for the combined left. The extreme-right National Front and environment candidates shared the rest.

The poll projected the opposition Socialists and Communists would win 258 of the 555 National Assembly seats in metropolitan France to 294 for the center-right, with two seats going to the environmentalists and one to the National Front.

The poll found considerable volatility, with 37 percent of those certain to vote saying they could yet change their minds.

The survey, conducted between last Wednesday and Saturday, relied on face-to-face interviews with 958 registered voters. It did not take into account 22 seats in overseas territories, most of which are held by center-right supporters. French financial markets were calm Monday with little movement and low volumes. The markets had tumbled last month on news the Socialists might be gaining on the center-right.

Chirac shook up the political landscape last month by dissolving parliament and calling an election 10 months ahead of schedule despite the center-right's overwhelming parliamentary majority and the low popularity ratings of Juppe and himself.

Hue warned that Chirac's entry into the campaign carried risks as well as possible benefits.

"He is going to involve himself to defend his outgoing majority," the Communist leader said. "Why has the parliament been dissolved? Because the president is preparing a terrible austerity plan so that the nation can meet the Maastricht criteria (for a single European currency)," Hue said.

Juppe accused the left of turning away from Europe and attacked a Socialist proposal to create 700,000 jobs in France, where unemployment is at a record 12.8 percent.

He said the spending required to create the jobs would drive up public deficits, preventing France from meeting the conditions for European monetary union.

"And that is why the Socialists have decided to turn their backs on Europe, and to move away from a single currency, because they know that they will not be able to qualify with this additional spending," he said.